July 29, 2014

Utah Politico Summer Reading: Senator Mike Lee [video]

Utah Senator Mike Lee

Utah Senator Mike Lee

It’s not too late to start a new book. And if you need a good idea or two, here are a few that Utah’s politicos are reading.

This is the seventh in the series on what Utah’s politicians have on their summer reading lists.


Senator Mike Lee has represented Utah in the U.S. Senate since 2010. When I asked what was on the Senator’s summer reading list, I didn’t expect a full explanation of why it was and what he enjoyed about the book. 

After all, Senator Lee is a busy guy, and even state legislators have sent me little more than a list of the books they expect to open this summer.

So, while it’s possible someone else out there is looking for Senator Lee’s summer reading list, I’m excited to present to you what’s on Senator Lee’s reading list in his own words.

Thank you, Senator. I much appreciate it.


 Mike Lee’s Summer Reading:Coolidge cover copy

Coolidge by Amity Shlaes

Usually, I’d insert Amazon’s description of the book here, but Senator Lee’s description of the book is more interesting.


Related articles

“Time Changed Hatch” Mailer Factually Correct

Is Freedom Works as dishonest as Freedom Path?

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve looked at a couple of maligning mail pieces sent out by the shadowy Freedom Path PAC whose primary purpose appears to be to malign incumbent Senator Orrin Hatch‘s opponents.  Both mail pieces appear to distort and misrepresent Hatch challengers Chris Herrod and Dan Liljenquist. Read the posts on the “Two Scoops” or “Double dip” mailer here and the “Jobs not Made in the USA” mailer here.

As per my promise, I will also analyze for factual accuracy the mailers sent by the anti-Hatch Freedom Works PAC. This post looks at a mailer I call “Time Changed Hatch.”  As with the last two mailers, I have tried to go to the primary sources and have also reached out to the Hatch reelection campaign for any kind of response they might have. They have directed me to the site realhatchrecord.com but declined to respond directly to the mailer any further. I have utilized their site to augment my research into the primary sources.  Since the site appears to be more focused on the larger Freedom Works mailer (as in, it’s 45 pages long), I expect finding it more useful when I present that analysis.

Analysis: “Time Changed Hatch” Mailer Attempts to Paint Hatch as Changed by Washington

The mailer opens with the following paragraph:

“In 1976, Orrin Hatch went to Washington. And just as time has shaped Utah’s unique landscape, thirty-six years as a Washington insider has changed Orrin Hatch into a big-spending, big-government politician.”

This, then, is the thesis of the entire effort to remove Senator Hatch from office and not really a fact so much as an argument. It’s classic Tea Party rhetoric.   The question: is Senator Orrin Hatch really a big-spending, big-government politician?

I will let you answer that yourself.  It’s really a statement that is relative to your own perception of what “big” is and whether it is good or bad. I will note this: Senator Hatch, with thirty-six years in the US Senate, has a record that has been examined by many organizations, lobbyists, and activists. As the Hatch campaign pointed out to me, the American Conservative Union has given him a lifetime rating of 90%, the National Taxpayer’s Union this year gave him the highest rating in Congress, and the Club for Growth gave him a 97% rating for his pro-growth policies. These are just a few. Find a more thorough list of organizations that have honored him here

Clearly, reasonable minds can disagree. So, I won’t answer the question about whether Senator Hatch is a “big-spending, big-government politician.”

On the other hand, the “Time Changed Hatch” mailer lists five specific bullet points in support of the statement that we can look at for accuracy.

The Statements: Five Votes or Types of Votes

  • Statement 1:Voted 16 times to increase the debt ceiling by a whopping $7.5 trillion–accounting for half of our nation’s debt.”

That Senator Hatch voted 16 times to increase the debt appears to be mostly TRUE, though I could only verify 14 votes, and I’m not going to discuss the total amount. (I suspect that somebody is going to correct me on the missing upon posting).

  1. Senate Vote #298 (Sep 29, 1981).
  2. Senate Vote #23 (Feb 6, 1981).
  3. Senate Vote #851 (Sep 23, 1982).
  4. Senate Vote #115 (May 25, 1983).
  5. Senate Vote #663 (Oct 12, 1984).
  6. Senate Vote #371 (Dec 11, 1985).
  7. Senate Vote #636 (Aug 15, 1986).
  8. Senate Vote #262 (Sep 23, 1987).
  9. HR 3136 (March 28, 1996).
  10. HR 2015 (June 25, 1997).
  11. S.2578 (June 11, 2002).
  12. HR 4 (April 1, 2004) .
  13. H.J. Res. 47 (March 16, 2006).
  14. H.J. Res. 43 (September 27, 2007)

Editorial Comment: Whether raising the debt at any one of these particular points is public policy question that I am not addressing here. It should be noted that a number of these votes (the first eight) occurred and were signed by President Ronald Reagan. With as often as we see politicians of all stripes (even Obama has tried) trying to channel the Gipper, I think it is relevant to note that President Reagan would have had to sign off on each of the debt increases that passed the House and Senate.

  • Statement 2:“Supported the “TARP” $700 billion Wall Street bailout.”

This statement is TRUE.  Senator Hatch did vote for TARP. According to the roll call list, Senator Hatch, along with then Senator Bennett, voted “Yea” on H. R. 1424, better known as “TARP” or “Troubled Assets and Relief Program.”  The bill’s stated purpose was to “provide authority for the Federal Government to purchase and insure certain types of troubled assets for the purposes of providing stability to and preventing disruption in the economy and financial system and protecting taxpayers.”

  • Statement 3: “Voted for numerous bills filled with pork-barrel earmarks–in 2010 Hatch was the 3rd highest earmarker out of all 535 members of Congress.”

This statement appears to be TRUE.  If you surf over to CQ.com, there is an excellent database on earmarks and what each member of Congress has earmarked.  If you click on the link on the left that says “Member’s with the highest total” you find a list of the top ten highest earmarking members of the Senate and the House. Senator Hatch was #3 on this list in 2010, the year in the Freedom Works “Time Changed Hatch” mailer. However, on that same page you can find that in 2009 Senator Hatch is not even in the top ten list.

Editorial Comment: Whether earmarks are “bad’ per se is an open question. Unlike a lot of other spending methods, earmarks are transparent and open, and, in reality, the way that Congress was designed to work. Federal earmarks account for only .5% of the budget, and in fiscal year 2010, cutting out Senator Hatch’s earmarks  (worth $358,815,000 for Utah) would have left another $10.7 billion in earmarks. If the federal government is going to spend, then earmarks are about the most benign and transparent way it happens.

  • Statement 4: “Co-sponsored the Obama-like Individual Mandate for Health Care, a law that forces individuals to purchase health insurance.”
, member of the United States Senate.

Image via Wikipedia

While it is TRUE that Senator Hatch did co-sponsor S.1770 in 1993per the “Time Changed Hatch” mailer, what is unclear is whether it was “Obama-like.”Looking further at the bill summary, the bill appears to provides for, among other things, “access to health insurance coverage under a qualified health plan for every citizen and lawful permanent resident of the United States” (universal coverage regardless of citizenship status),  “nondiscrimination based on health status” (preventing insurance companies from discriminating based on preexisting conditions), imposes a mandate on states requiring them to comply with certain insurance certification and enrollment requirements, and allows an exemption from a universal coverage mandate for those with religious scruples that prevent participation in “health plan coverage” (that last one I thought was odd, but, there it is…).

Therefore, it does appear that S.1770 required that all individuals be part of the national healthcare plan, or what is better known as an “individual mandate.” While states may legally do as much within their own states (as did Massachusetts), whether such is constitutional on a federal level raises is an open question and will be argued before the Supreme Court this year. (See more about that debate here).

  • Statement 5Partnered with liberal Ted Kennedy as a co-sponsor of SCHIP, described as ‘…a precursor to the new [universal health care] system.”

This statement is TRUE.  Senator Hatch did co-sponsor SCHIP with Senator Ted Kennedy (and 23 other Senators, too) in 1997, as was highly reported in the news media at the time. It was seen as sufficiently significant at the time that Wikipedia even makes a note of  Senator Hatch’s co-sponsorship with the support of then First Lady Hillary Clinton in the second paragraph of the entry on SCHIP.  The New York Times reported at the time that

Senator Orrin G. Hatch, a conservative Republican, today embraced a major Democratic effort to provide health insurance for half of the nation’s 10 million uninsured children, saying he would become the chief sponsor of the legislation.

Senator Hatch explained that he took the step across the aisle to show that “the Republican Party ”does not hate children,” and he added that ”as a nation, as a society, we have a moral responsibility” to provide coverage for the most vulnerable children.”

CONCLUSION: Freedom Works “Time Changed Hatch” Mailer is factually true.

While reasonable minds can, and do, disagree on the wisdom of the above cited votes by Senator Hatch, the statements Freedom Works makes are largely true. In fact, I’m not sure that any of them appear to distort his record in any way. The only statements that seem to be questionable, in my assessment are the following:

  • “…36 years in Washington Changed Orrin Hatch.” This is up for debate. Yes, the man is three and a half decades older, but change can swing both ways.
  • “Obama-like Individual Mandate of Health Care[.]”  I have not addressed how comparable the mandate Senator Hatch voted for and co-sponsored is to the American Healthcare Act because such would need more space and time than I care to give the issue and than you care to read. However, on its face, there are many relevant comparisons. (For more on the American Healthcare Act before the Supreme Court, go here).

The striking contrast between the mailers sent by Freedom Path (pro-Hatch) and those sent by Freedom Works (anti-Hatch) is stark. Where Freedom Path grasps at straws and makes very distorted spins on Liljenquist and Herrod’s records, Freedom Path takes an almost “high road” approach. “Here are the votes,” Freedom Works says, and “we think they lead to a certain result.”

With that in mind, please carefully consider the facts and whether they support your policy preferences. Freedom Path is demonizing Liljenquist and Herrod without any basis; Freedom Works is pointing out policy points with a very real basis in Senator Hatch’s record. Happy hunting!

[U.S. Senate Roll Call on H.R.1424] [S.1770 "Individual Mandate" Bill Summary] [S.674 "SCHIP" Bill Summary] [New York Times] [CQ Earmark Database]

Freedom Path “Two Scoops…” Mailer Misses the Truth on Double-Dipping

Recently, I started to get glossy mailers lambasting Chris Herrod and Dan Liljenquist, the two candidates who are challenging Senator Orrin Hatch for one of Utah’s seats in the US Senate.

I was not surprised. It’s not even an open secret that Orrin Hatch has been for the last two years preparing for a frontal assault on his renomination, and wisely so. Despite that we are still a month away from the selection of state delegates for the Utah Republican Convention on March 15, I expected that Senator Hatch (and any PAC supporting him) would be actively campaigning to fill caucuses with his supporters and to control the message about Hatch’s and his opponents’ records.

What surprised me was the message in the mailers.

I’ve listened to stump speeches from Hatch, Liljenquist, and Herrod, and I’ve been more than soaked with their messages. Hatch is a diplomatic, conservative fighter, sponsor of the Balanced Budget Amendment (as well as

an amendment to outlaw flag burning). Herrod is, also, very conservative, a co-founder of the Patrick Henry Caucus, and very interested in immigration reform. Liljenquist, also a conservative, has focused his political career on entitlement reform (and for full disclosure and a plug, I’ve posted on some of his reforms elsewhere on the blog).

All three have labeled themselves under the conservative brand, broadly speaking (to what extent they each are conservatives is another topic not the subject of this post). Orrin Hatch, however, happens to be the incumbent. Which brings us all up to speed and provides a premise for me to explain my surprise at the subject of the glossy mailers.

Mailer 1: “Two Scoops Are Better Than One…”

In tone, the “Two Scoops” mailer tries to show that Herrod and Liljenquist are the type of politicians that are double dipping from public coffers. An ice cream cone shows flecks of dollar signs sprinkled through-out, with another scoop poised above (see the nearby pic).

Inside, large font declares that “Dan Liljenquist & Chris Herrod Support Double-Dipping at Taxpayers’ Expense.”  This immediately struck me as odd, since I could remember Liljenquist, a former state senator, specifically talking about how he had introduced a bill to stop double-dipping by state employees.

So which was it? Did Liljenquist and Herrod actually support double-dipping, as the Hatch supporting PAC Freedom Path was arguing, or did Liljenquist fight double-dipping, as he says in his stump speech?

The “Two Scoops” mailer lists as its source an article by Lisa Riley Roche, “State retirement bills pass House committee,” and published in the Deseret Morning News on February, 25, 2010. I pulled it up, and then pulled out the  “Two Scoops” mailer to see if the claims held up. In order to make sure the “Two Scoops” mailer was not only correct, but stating the facts in context, I pulled up the bill itself. You can find it here.

The mailer goes on to make the following claims:

  • Double-dipping is a sweet deal for state workers, allowing them to collect a pension on top of the paychecks.” This is, as a statement, TRUE. In fact, according to news reports, it was a problem before the 2010 session during which Liljenquist ran the bill in question. The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board called for the state legislature to end the practice by law.

It’s called double dipping. The law allows schoolteachers and other public employees to retire and take pension benefits from the state retirement system, then go back to work full time — often in a similar job — and receive large 401(k) contributions from their employer while continuing to earn a salary and take pension benefits.[...]

Unfortunately, the state retirement system can’t afford it. If the Legislature doesn’t change the rules, double dipping could cost the retirement system $900 million over the next decade. The Utah pension system is already underfunded by about $6.5 billion due to the hit it took when the stock market crashed. That’s why the Legislature must put an end to double dipping.

[italics are mine]

  • “Double-dipping could cost the state nearly $900 million over a decade — more wasteful government spending.” Again, this appears to be a true statement. Robert Gehrke reported that “[a]n audit of the retirement system finished late last year showed the double-dipping would cost the state $897 million in the coming decade.” However, this is the problem that Liljenquist’s bill set out to solve, not the problem that resulted from his vote.
  • As a State Senator, Dan Liljenquist introduced a bill that would have ended the practice of double-dipping for state workers–but then turned around and later voted to allow double-dipping to continue.” Upon review, this statement begins to cross over into the grey territory and causes me to question the integrity of the writer. Further,  we have to rate this statement  as MISLEADING.What really happened?

The original bill would have ended the practice completely. According to the Roche article that Freedom Path cites, Rep. Stephen Sandstrom asked that the bill be amended in the House to allow people who left their job for a year to return if they had not been replaced. Roche writes that

Liljenquist said the change accommodates retirees who find themselves in the position of having to go back to work but ends what he called the “sweetheart deal” that gives workers an incentive to retire early and come back.

However, the reform still saved money and ended double-dipping as it had existed before–and it had been proposed and sponsored by Dan Liljenquist. Further, the bill did not expand government waste, but actually cut it. The fiscal note tied to the bill–an analysis of the costs of the law–said that “over time there will be a net savings to the retirement system for individuals that work longer. Savings to the state may be as high as $10.5 million depending on retirement patterns.”

This, after a potential cost of $900 million over a decade. If my math serves me right, that’s a switch in the direction of savings.

In contrast, Dan Liljenquist was the original sponsor of the bill, which passed with almost unanimous Republican support and the Governor’s signature.

The Salt Lake Tribune’s summary of the Dan Liljenquist reform is as follows:

Sen. Dan Liljenquist’s package of bills would replace the current pension plan with a kind of 401(k) plan; eliminate so-called double dipping in which a retired public employee comes back to work and draws a retirement check and paycheck; and extend the retirement eligibility for peace officers. The changes are prospective and largely leave current employees unaffected. Liljenquist said the changes are needed because the economic crash walloped the current system, creating a $6.5 billion gap in the long-term funds and obligations.

  •  “As a State Representative, Chris Herrod supported weakening a proposal to end double-dipping–instead opening the door to allow state workers to collect both their pensions and a state paycheck if they wait at least a year to return to work.”

My problems with this statement are multiple. First, the statement avoids the obvious–that the proposal to end double-dipping was Dan Liljenquist’s. To admit as much would have punched holes in the previous attack on Liljenquist. Second, state workers can’t just “return to work.” They must be rehired. Last, as before stated, only one Republican voted against the bill, the bill resulted in savings, and was attributed to the reasons why Utah was able to avoid disaster after the $6.5 billion shortfall that year.

For these reasons, this statement is MISLEADING.

CONCLUSION: “Two Scoops” Distorts the Truth and Lies to Voters

The “Two Scoops” mailer ends with this statement: “Utah Can’t Afford Big Spenders Like Dan Liljenquist & Chris Herrod.” This is, perhaps, the biggest lie of the brochure.

So, back to the beginning:

DO DAN LILJENQUIST AND CHRIS HERROD SUPPORT DOUBLE-DIPPING?

Clearly, the answer is “No, they opposed it.”   Not only had double-dipping reform been proposed and supported by Liljenquist or Herrod, respectively, but the pension reform that passed resulted in savings, not further government waste, relative to what was done earlier.

In fact, the unions turned out in force to fight them on it.

Some 200 people jammed a committee room Wednesday and more spilled into overflow rooms to hear a Senate committee debate what are perhaps the most drastic changes in the history of Utah’s public employee retirement system.

, U.S. Senator from Utah.

If Liljenquist and Herrod were to do the same thing Hatch with Medicare Part D, the Hatch Campaign would go crazy (and perhaps they have…we’ll look at a mailer  by Freedom Works attacking Hatch later). Instead, Freedom Path, Orrin Hatch supporting  political action committee, has explicitly flipped Liljenquist and Herrod’s records upside down to exactly the opposite of what really happened.

That’s misleading to Utah voters, and that’s bad for Utah politics.

Ironic: By doing so, does Freedom Path realize that it has by association attacked every Republican member of the Utah State Legislature and Governor Herbert?  Each Republican (with one exception) voted for it, and the Governor signed it.

TOMORROW (or the next day)…”Jobs not Made In the USA”

[Salt Lake Tribune]

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Could you say “President Ryan” in 2013?

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 05:  U.S. Rep. Paul Rya...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Rep. Paul Ryan is thinking about running for the soon to be vacated US Senate seat in his state.

I think he could do better. And so could America. We could draft him for the Presidency.

In truth, a presidential run makes a lot more sense for Ryan than does a Senate race. Ryan is already the de facto leader of the Republican Party on the most critical issues of the day. If he’s concerned about spending time with his family, what better way and better time (when they are little and not distressed teenagers thrown into the national spotlight) to bond with them than a family ad­ven­ture seeing America followed by a job where dad could work from home? While there are many potential candidates for the Wisconsin Senate seat, who among the current presidential contenders is really up to winning and then governing? A new poll shows a plurality of GOP voters don’t think any of them is. (“Some 45 percent now say they’re dissatisfied with the GOP candidates who have declared or are thought to be serious about running, up from 33 percent two months ago, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. Just 41 percent are satisfied with the likely Republican field, down from 52 percent.”)

Further,

One Senate seat is not vital to the republic, but Ryan himself has made the case how critical it is to address our looming debt crisis now. Without the White House and without someone exceptionally capable to advocate for it, it’s hard to see how the “The Path to Prosperity” is ever going to be enacted. I’m at a loss to think of another Republican who can bring together Tea Partyers, wonks, social conservatives, hawks, libertarians, Wall Street and Main Street Republicans and connect with a new generation of Republicans.

In a very practical sense, the question for Ryan is: Why not give his party and the country six months (September 2011 to February 2012)? By then he’ll either have failed to catch fire or he’ll have a clear path to the presidential nomination. Six months. Twenty-four weeks. For a politician constantly at work in Congress, in town halls and in media appearances, that doesn’t sound like that much. (In fact, I would venture that his schedule is more rigorous now than the average presidential contender’s.)

You see, there is no good reason for Ryan to avoid a presidential run. Sometimes, if you don’t see the opening and seize it, a better one never comes along. Bill Clinton understood this in 1992.

via If Paul Ryan can run for Senate, why not for the presidency? – Right Turn – The Washington Post.

Take the opening, Representative. Take it.

For an earlier post where I have looked at Rep. Ryan’s work on the budget, check here.

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